Planet Rugby

Italy push Wales close in opener

01st February 2014 16:16

Share:

jamie roberts scott williams wales italy

Assist: Jamie Roberts

Reigning champions Wales saw off a promising Italian side 23-15 thanks to tries from Alex Cuthbert and Scott Williams.

Italy showed huge improvement from their substandard outings last November, exciting centre Michele Campagnaro grabbing a brace with two opportunistic tries.

History beckons for Wales; the objective of becoming the first side to complete a hat-trick of consecutive titles has been drilled into their squad over the last few weeks.

This, though, was an unconvincing performance. Wales worked harder in defence than attack and struggled to sustain phases going forward, although they did control the breakdown.

This is a special group of players without doubt, perhaps whose true destiny will be the Rugby World Cup next year, but they were worryingly flat in the second half.

Italy fielded their most experienced pack in Test history but had three 20-year-olds in the backline, still trying to find that balance between set-piece excellence and exciting back play. Judging by this game they appear to be leaning towards the latter.

Such was their decline at the back end of 2013 it was easy to forget they defeated both Ireland and France in last year's competition. Going against tradition, the Italian scrum struggled, but the backs were dangerous and exciting. Campagnaro at outside centre sparkled.

Two crucial lapses at either end of the first half though were Italy's undoing, highlighting the need for composure as well as plenty of enthusiasm. Wales are too good to cough those chances up. The Italian scrum disintegrated, Wales winning the penalties in that area and at the breakdown as the match wore on to secure victory.

Angelo Esposito endured every debutant's nightmare early on, rushing across to cover Rhys Priestland's grubber kick and missing it completely to allow Alex Cuthbert to scoop up and dive over in the corner with only three minutes on the clock.

Italy got on the board thanks to Tommaso Allan's simple penalty in an even opening quarter, Wales' supremacy at the breakdown just handing them the territorial advantage.

Halfpenny's 28th-minute strike opened up a 10-3 lead for the champions but Italy were dogged for large swathes of the first half, keeping the door shut on Wales and working hard to chase their kicks and put the hosts under pressure.

Sergio Parisse couldn't gather Edoardo Gori's clever cross-field kick for what would have been a impressive try as the Azzurri maintained their tenacious start.

It faltered just before the break - Scott Williams releasing Jamie Roberts to bust through Alberto Sgarbi's tackle before receiving the inside ball to go over, handing Wales a comfortable 17-3 cushion. Italy's energy and enthusiasm had worked against them as Sgarbi leapt out of the defensive line too soon.

Campagnaro bagged an excellent try for his first, his pass to Leonardo Sarto coming under scrutiny from the TMO but he raced after the winger's kick to bring Italy within nine points of the lead.

Italian rugby currently weighs on the shoulders of the 20-year-old Allan and his missed conversion and penalty were vital, particularly when Italy were enjoying the majority of possession.

Wales were left to soak up attacking waves and bide their time, Priestland nearly pouncing with a winding run to the corner only for his pass to find a man in blue rather than red.

Sam Warburton received a rousing reception following his introduction off the bench, political differences put to one side, as the Wales scrum continued to dominate in the eyes of the referee. It generated a second penalty for Halfpenny, helping Wales breath easier at 20-8.

Halfpenny's breathing was considerably less easy a few minutes later when Campagnaro pounced with an interception try, narrowing the deficit to five.

The Wales full-back though added another penalty - again won by great work from the hosts at the breakdown - to keep the Italians at arm's length. It was far from a masterclass from Wales, but a job done.

Man of the Match: With two tries and causing plenty of danger for the Welsh defence, Michele Campagnaro gets the nod for a very impressive performance in midfield.

Moment of the Match: A pick for Campagnaro again, with his interception of Halfpenny's pass seeing him streak away for a long-range try to narrow the scoreboard late on and leave Wales sweating.

Villain of the match: No real nasty stuff worth mentioning.

The scorers:

For Wales:
Tries: Cuthbert, Williams
Cons: Halfpenny 2
Pens: Halfpenny 3

For Italy:
Tries: Campagnaro 2
Con: Allan
Pen: Allan

Wales: 15 Leigh Halfpenny, 14 Alex Cuthbert, 13 Scott Williams, 12 Jamie Roberts, 11 George North, 10 Rhys Priestland, 9 Mike Phillips, 8 Toby Faletau, 7 Justin Tipuric, 6 Dan Lydiate, 5 Alun-Wyn Jones (c), 4 Luke Charteris, 3 Adam Jones, 2 Richard Hibbard, 1 Paul James.
Replacements: 16 Ken Owens, 17 Ryan Bevington, 18 Rhodri Jones, 19 Andrew Coombs, 20 Sam Warburton, 21 Rhys Webb, 22 James Hook, 23 Liam Williams.

Italy: 15 Luke McLean, 14 Angelo Esposito, 13 Michele Campagnaro, 12 Alberto Sgarbi, 11 Leonardo Sarto, 10 Tommaso Allan, 9 Edoardo Gori, 8 Sergio Parisse, 7 Mauro Bergamasco, 6 Alessandro Zanni, 5 Marco Bortolami, 4 Quintin Geldenhuys, 3 Martin Castrogiovanni, 2 Leonardo Ghiraldini, 1 Michele Rizzo.
Replacements: 16 Davide Giazzon, 17 Alberto De Marchi, 18 Lorenzo Cittadini, 19 Joshua Furno, 20 Francesco Minto, 21 Tobias Botes, 22 Luciano Orquera, 23 Tommaso Iannone.

Referee: John Lacey (Ireland)
Assistant Referees: Glen Jackson (New Zealand), Francisco Pastrana (Argentina)
TMO: Iain Ramage (Scotland)
Assessor: Clayton Thomas (Wales)

by Ben Coles
@bencoles_

Forthcoming Fixtures
FixtureDetails
All times are local
Rugby Championship
Saturday , August 23
Argentina vs South AfricaArgentina vs South Africa Preview
More Rugby Championship fixtures
Top 14
Saturday , August 23
Brive vs Clermont Auvergne14:45
Toulon vs La Rochelle18:30
Bordeaux-Begles vs Racing Metro Paris18:30
Montpellier vs GrenobleMontpellier vs Grenoble Preview
Bayonne vs Oyonnax18:30
Stade Francais vs Lyon20:45
Friday , August 29
Clermont Auvergne vs Montpellier20:45
More Top 14 fixtures
Currie Cup
Saturday , August 23
Blue Bulls vs Eastern Province Kings15:00
Western Province vs Lions17:05
Sharks vs Cheetahs19:10
Friday , August 29
Pumas vs Sharks19:10
More Currie Cup fixtures
ITM Cup
Sunday , August 24
Manawatu vs AucklandManawatu vs Auckland Preview
Bay Of Plenty vs TasmanBay Of Plenty vs Tasman Preview
Wednesday, August 27
Waikato vs Taranaki19:35
Thursday , August 28
Canterbury vs Northland19:35
Friday , August 29
Wellington vs Manawatu09:35
More ITM Cup fixtures
Recent Results
FixtureDetails
All times are local
Rugby Championship
Saturday , August 23
New Zealand 51 - 20 AustraliaNew Zealand vs Australia Report
More Rugby Championship results
ITM Cup
Northland 35 - 5 WellingtonNorthland vs Wellington Report
Counties Manukau 29 - 25 OtagoCounties Manukau vs Otago Report
More ITM Cup results
Top 14
Friday , August 22
Toulouse 35 - 6 CastresToulouse vs Castres Report
More Top 14 results
Currie Cup
Pumas 33 - 15 GriquasPumas vs Griquas Report
More Currie Cup results
ITM Cup
Waikato 27 - 58 CanterburyWaikato vs Canterbury Report
Hawkes Bay 29 - 26 TaranakiHawkes Bay vs Taranaki Report
Thursday , August 21
North Harbour 21 - 25 Southland
Sunday , August 17
Tasman 35 - 15 Hawkes BayTasman vs Hawkes Bay Report
Northland 23 - 28 Manawatu
More ITM Cup results
Rugby Championship
Saturday , August 16
Australia 12 - 12 New ZealandAustralia vs New Zealand Report
South Africa 13 - 6 ArgentinaSouth Africa vs Argentina Report
More Rugby Championship results
Top 14
Clermont Auvergne 30 - 26 GrenobleClermont Auvergne vs Grenoble Report
Castres 22 - 25 Stade Francais
Bordeaux-Begles 18 - 9 Lyon
Montpellier 16 - 19 Racing Metro ParisMontpellier vs Racing Metro Paris Report
Brive 37 - 15 La Rochelle
Toulouse 20 - 19 Oyonnax
More Top 14 results
Currie Cup
Lions 60 - 19 Eastern Province KingsLions vs Eastern Province Kings Report
Western Province 41 - 17 Blue BullsWestern Province vs Blue Bulls Report
Cheetahs 34 - 27 GriquasCheetahs vs Griquas Report
More Currie Cup results
ITM Cup
Otago 28 - 14 North Harbour
Canterbury 48 - 9 AucklandCanterbury vs Auckland Report
Wellington 25 - 37 WaikatoWellington vs Waikato Report
More ITM Cup results
Top 14
Friday , August 15
Bayonne 15 - 29 ToulonBayonne vs Toulon Report
More Top 14 results
Aviva Premiership Table
PosTeamPPts
1Bath00
2Exeter00
3Gloucester00
4Harlequins00
5Leicester Tigers00